Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Alcohol "the most harmful drug"

The news has recently been full of the report in The Lancet that alcohol is the most harmful drug. The routine shock-horror clichés have followed as the news media simply grab the headline and swallow the propaganda of the anti-alcohol campaigners, who unsurprisingly have welcomed this report, but whose own motives are never questioned.

The report actually said that "heroin, crack cocaine, and metamfetamine were the most harmful drugs to individuals whereas alcohol, heroin, and crack cocaine were the most harmful to others". One of the reasons why alcohol scored so highly was because of its widespread use, much wider than other drugs. In other words, it has a greater effect because more people use it. The harm to others includes alcohol-related crime and disorder, domestic violence and the overall cost to the tax payer such as policing and NHS costs. I doubt that they offset alcohol tax against that.

While no one can dispute that misuse of alcohol is the cause of many problems, the grossly oversimplified reporting of a detailed and careful piece of research means that what has come to us is little more than propaganda. Unfortunately we have a generation of politicians who live by soundbites and policies made on the hoof (such as the child benefit fiasco) and a Daily Mail-style version of this report will probably constitute a detailed government briefing nowadays.

I wonder whether researchers get fed up with their meticulous work being condensed into screaming headlines to further other people's agendas and sell newspapers?


  1. The thing I hate is the fact that the public can't see beyond the newspaper report.

    The figures used in the report are suspect as well. Pete Brown makes a good point in his blog on this.

  2. I didn't examine the figures closely, but I agree that most people won't see past the headlines. I've already had a couple of people asking my views on this news story.

  3. Just to say I had a loverly time with you in Preston, Mr Neville. I enjoyed particularly your heroic marathon sprint down Friargate.

    Not that you need have bothered, what with the last bus being late.

    But it was a comical sight nonetheless. I wish I'd have made a recording and sent it to Lisa Riley.


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